MCALLEN–An elderly Rio Grande Valley woman was charged Thursday with conspiracy to commit marriage fraud after she was accused of setting up people to take their vows to get residency in the United States.
Federal prosecutors said Santos Botello, 76 of Edinburg was taken into custody by agents with Homeland Security Investigations and made an appearance before U.S. Magistrate Judge Dorina Ramos.
The criminal complaint alleges Botello has been arranging sham marriages between foreign nationals and United States Citizens for profit since 2002.
Foreign nationals allegedly hired Botello help them obtain residency status in the United States by arranging a sham marriage with a U.S. citizen.
The complaint states Botello committed marriage fraud by arranging marriages between couples when they did not intend to establish a life together upon their marriages and were only seeking immigration benefits.
Botello paid U.S. citizens to participate in the sham marriages, according to the complaint. Botello allegedly completed the immigration paperwork and would instruct the pair how to present themselves as a married couple.
Botello told them to get a common law marriage certificate, and take pictures together as well as instructed the couples how to answer questions at their immigration interview, the complaint states.
By filing a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), US. citizens may seek residency for a relative. These petitions are legal and permit a U.S. citizen to bring his or her close relative, such as a spouse, to the United States.
Marriage fraud occurs when this petition for residency is filed, but the bride and groom did not intend to establish a life together at the time they were married.
The charge of marriage fraud carries a penalty of up to five years in prison, a maximum $250,000 fine and up to a three-year-term of supervised release.